Charles Hoffman was a bureaucrat. He lived alone in a bureaucratic house atop a bureaucratic hill and did many bureaucratic things in his everyday life. Hoffman also scorned the nomadic vagrants that knocked on his bureaucratic door.
“Good sir, could you spare some change?”
“Would you please, sir?”
It was the same situation over and over again. The nomads would be shoved aside and receive nothing. It wasn’t until mid-December that Hoffman’s view of the world transformed from its ungiving vision to one of a more charitable sight.
While Hoffman lived alone with no wife or children, he had relatives who lived relatively nearby. His brother, Ferdinand, worked two separate jobs to provide for his wife and two children. They did not visit often, but when they did, it was always to attempt to include Hoffman in their familial gatherings during the holidays. Hoffman would repeatedly decline, claiming that work had become very pressing and that he could not afford to waste time without working ahead. Ferdinand was always hesitant to depart without his brother, but nevertheless chose to respect his solitary, workaholic lifestyle. This holiday, however, was a bit different.
Ferdinand and his family tentatively knocked on the door of Hoffman’s threateningly officious house. The children held their weathered suitcases with white-knuckled hands and stood close to their mother. Hoffman opened the door, dressed in a work suit, holding a cup of perfect espresso in his right hand and an official-looking briefcase in his left. His legs stiffened in unpleasant surprise. Ferdinand spoke first.
“Charlie, my dear brother. We’re in a bit of a mess. We’re being evicted from our apartment and we’ll need a place to stay for Christmas. Could you perchance host us for a while? We don’t know when we’ll have another place to stay,” he said apologetically. Hoffman swallowed and thinned his lips to a barely visible line.
After much effort, he managed, “I could.”
“Wonderful. Thank you so much, Charlie. I really owe you one,” Ferdinand said, grinning. “Children, there is a guest bedroom upstairs, if I do recall. Please put your belongings there and then come back to properly thank Mr. Hoffman.” Hoffman’s legs seized up again as he cautiously stepped out of the doorway to allow the children to scurry through. He caught himself before he could clarify that the words ‘could’ and ‘would’ were very different.
Hoffman lay awake in bed that night, reflecting in depth on his day as he usually did. It had suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he truly felt at ease concerning his decision to allow his brother’s family to stay with him. Another inkling crept into Hoffman’s mind just as he was about to fall asleep. Perhaps vagrants didn’t have families to go to when they were in financial distress. Perhaps their only option was to go door to door and politely ask for donations. The thought tucked itself safely away in Hoffman’s mind as he surrendered to the arms of Morpheus.